APKY/AMP: Hello Joan, and thanks for this interview for AuthorMeProfessionals. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer. What inspired you to write your first book?
I have written since I was eight when I wrote my first 10 page novel. I was immensely impressed with it. When I was living in New York in the 1980s I was studying “Rebirthing” which is a new age idea that says you make your major life decisions at or around birth and you live according to those decisions. One day there was a major accident right up the street from my apartment in which a woman was pinned by a 35-ton building crane 60 feet above an excavation pit. It was a riveting rescue. I wondered what kind of a birth would result in that woman being the victim of a crane that missed two other people and should never have been able to work over an unprotected sidewalk in the first place. So I wrote “The Provenance” (which means origin) about a similar accident and a fictional woman and her life based on a birth as a twin in which her twin brother died and she felt responsible. I also wrote the story of the man who tipped the crane and several other people. They all came together to play out their specific roles in this one monumental accident, each according to their birth decisions.
In the beginning of my career I was very conventional. I wrote with Suzy Prudden. We had agents. We were published by Hay House, Doubleday and Harper San Francisco. Today I publish on the digital sites, I don’t use agents, and I don’t use publishers. I take home 70% of what sells (instead of 7%). I’m absolutely happy as a writer and love the new writing and publishing paradigm.
APKY/AMP: Most writers are right there with you in the paradigm, Joan. Perhaps that’s the current writers’ Provenance. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
I write in three areas under Joan Meijer – Medical Thrillers, How Tos (dealing with mostly writing) and co-authoring Suzy Prudden books. I have recently stopped writing for other people. I simply have too many of my own books and stories to write.
APKY/AMP: I think we missed the question there, Joan, but gained more info about you. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Relentless: The Search for Typhoid Mary is a medical history novel with dozens of issues. It is based on the true story of Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon – Typhoid Mary was an Irish immigrant woman, relatively unattractive, heavy set, approaching 40 and unmarried when the investigation that led to her identification as the first Typhoid Carrier began. She was strong, tough, outspoken, a woman who had immigrated to the US at 15, researched the most profitable employment available to her. She had worked hard to become top in her field – a cook for the wealthy. There were other typhoid carriers in New York at the time. None of them were incarcerated in solitary confinement. Mary’s big sin was being a cook for the wealthy. Her other sins were her Irish immigrant status, her female sex and unmarried status. Male typhoid carriers were give jobs at tax payer expense. Mary spent 1/3rd of her life in a prison hospital. The issues that beset us today – immigrants, female, lack of recognition as the supporter of a family, attractiveness, epidemiology and the limits of the law all play out today as they did in 1906.
APKY/AMP: Amazing. Sounds like a book I’d love to read. Wing me over a pdf copy, please? Back to you - what have you had published to-date?
I have published in fiction: “The Initiative” “The President’s Dirty Little Secret” “The Provenance” “Relentless: The Search for Typhoid Mary. In Nonfiction: “Date Rape: It’s Not Your Fault” “How To Write A Book That Positions You As An Expert In Your Field” “The Character Book”. With Suzy Prudden: “Starting Right” “MetaFitness: Your Thoughts Taking Shape” “Change Your Mind Change Your Body” “Suzy Prudden’s Itty Bitty Weight Loss Book” “Suzy Prudden’s One Stop Diet Revolution” “Suzy Prudden’s Body Wisdom” I have also written two little books for The Ford Foundation, a little book for the State of Connecticut Department of Transportation, a little first aid book for ABC Television, and half a dozen in-house books for Suzy Prudden workshops. I wrote “Adventure-cise” a children’s exercise audio. I was the writer for hire on two motion pictures that never got out of development. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about publishing on the digital sights which is pretty much written on a daily basis in my blog http://writecharacter.blogspot.com. I also blog daily for Suzy Prudden doing readings from our book “Body Wisdom” and may do an annual Body Wisdom Readings book depending on time. I have two medical thrillers in the hopper which I’m hoping I have time to write.
APKY/AMP: Oh my, you could open your own bookstore! J Do you have any advice for other writers?
The greatest gifts to writers are the digital publishing sites. For the first time we don’t need agents or publishers. We can publish what we write and it’s up to us to figure out how to sell it. We live in a wonderful time.
APKY/AMP: Perhaps you could blog on our site about marketing and selling, Joan. That seems to be our hardest work these days since most writers are not very good sales people. Tell us why we should buy your book?
“Relentless: The Search for Typhoid Mary” is a wonderful story about an incredible woman who was branded as a villain. She is a magnificent character; strong, independent, stoic, undaunted, loving. As I read through the articles that had been written about her fascinating case and the amazing investigation carried out by Dr. George Soper, I knew there was more to the story than the history I was reading. I was thrilled as an author to see this three dimensional woman emerge. Not only does she emerge but the wealthy class of New York and the servant class that saw to their needs emerge. New York itself emerged. It’s a fascinating picture of the United States at the beginning of microbiology. I consider myself as much of a stenographer for this marvelous history as an author. It was my honor to give Mary a voice she never had.
APKY/AMP: Wow, I really need that pdf from you. So, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
APKY/AMP: Aha. I think I know what you mean. J Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
No I haven’t submitted my books for competitions I don’t ever want to take the time to figure out which of the zillion competitions actually applies to what I write.
APKY/AMP: You do have a point there – there’re tons of competitions out there and that makes for hard choices. Is there a special place that you prefer when you write?
I just sit at my computer wherever it is, turn on Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and start to write.
APKY/AMP: Right. I lean more towards Edvard Grieg. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
I have another pseudonym that I write under because I write subject matter under that name which would not be appropriate for my non-fiction writing as Joan Meijer.
APKY/AMP: That’s encouraging to me as I’ve created A P von K’Ory as a nom de plume for my fiction – has a ring to it and is easier to remember than the full version. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
I don’t have an agent now. I have worked with several agents in the past. Since I’m not approaching publishers any more I don’t need an agent. We’re at an interesting time in the publishing world when Publishers, Agents and even bookstores are at risk of becoming obsolete because they truly have not treated writers well. I make more money on the digitals than I ever made working with agents and publishers.
APKY/AMP: Another good point. What are you working on at the moment / next?
I’m working on a bunch of material under my other name. If I get time (read make time) I’ll finish “The Bridge” which is almost finished. It was my National Novel Writing Month project last year. “Relentless: The Search For Typhoid Mary” was the project in 2010.
APKY/AMP: All the power to you, Joan. Do you manage to write every day?
No, but close. I have a job and a family as well as my writing. Often other obligations take me away from the computer.
APKY/AMP: Right. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
I never suffer from writer’s block, because I’ve never been much of an editor. I know people who do. I have made a hypnosis process “Overcoming Writer’s Block” which I’ll post on my website one of these years. The trick with writer’s block is never to allow your internal editor take over.
APKY/AMP: Let us know when you post that one so we can “steal” it for our blog! Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and off you are with it?
My favorite way to approach a novel is to write it as a movie first. Formula for movies is a very formal dance. If I stick with the formula I end up with an excellently structured book. I can then expand it into novel form. A 20,000 word script easily turns into a 70,000 word novel, which is just the right length for the digitals. I find that if I just let the book flow – which I’ve done a few times – it’s harder to control it. That’s how I ended up with 93,000 words for “The Bridge” which I now have to go back and tighten.
APKY/AMP: Again, let us know about the script approach idea, if you’ve an article or book on it. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
I’ve written an entire book “The Character Book” about character development. I start with the question: At the beginning of the book what does my main character know. What is he wrong about? So at the beginning of “Relentless: The Search For Typhoid Mary” Mary knows she is a top cook for the wealthy in New York and she believes that her life is settled and will continue in that direction until she retires. She is completely wrong about that because as a typhoid carrier she cannot handle food. And there is no way she can be careful enough to remain a cook without infecting people. Her whole existence is about trying to remain a cook. It’s very easy to write characters once you understand what drives them.
APKY/AMP: That’s sound advice. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
I used to give my books to my sister. Her response to “The Provenance” was, “Thank God it’s good, I was terrified that it wouldn’t be.” Now I just post. I don’t give what I write to anyone.
APKY/AMP: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
My writing has really improved. I generally write a first draft. I go through it again to see if I made any mistakes. Once more for typos and up it goes.
APKY/AMP: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
I think I have a magical connection between my fingers on the computer and the creative universe. I just open my head and take notes. Since I type really fast, we get a lot written – the muse and I – in a short time.
APKY/AMP: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
I like third person best. I have never tried second person. I’ve just written a first person short story that was quite a bit of fun but I still like third person best.
APKY/AMP: Yours truly too. J What do you like to read?
I like to read thrillers. Good medical thrillers are fabulous to me.
APKY/AMP: I think I read Harlan Coben’s Miracle Cure and had a good time with it. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
I have a grandson who is my movie buddy. I like hanging with him when I’m not writing. I read to him and pretty much think of exposing him to the world – museums, books, music, etc. as a hobby.
APKY/AMP: Lucky fellow, not left to see the world through video games. Where can we find out about you and your work?
I have a URL www.joanmeijer.com. I’m also covered extensively on Google.
APKY/AMP: Superb. Is there anything else you’d like to mention, Joan?
The important thing that writers should know is that Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), Pubit (Barnes & Noble), Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords.com are all you need to be an author these days. You should learn to do your own covers because it gets really expensive if you don’t. You don’t need an agent. You don’t need bookstores and book signings. You need to write and publish. Learn keywords. Study how other people in your field write their descriptions. Learn what sells and give people what they want. It’s a whole new world out there and it’s very, very exciting.
APKY/AMP: Joan, thank you so much.